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Marathon on Keto: Will It Improve Performance?

Having a keto-adapted body has been proven to be beneficial for a lot of health buffs. But the jury is still out for long standing athletes and sports trainers.

Much like running gear favorites, like ponytail headbands, nutritional trends have also had their share of ups and downs in the active sports spectrum. The bottom line is that what works for one doesn’t readily make it work for another. The body has its own set of engines that run on specific fuel. A ketogenic dietis a way of making the body consume fat instead of the usual carbs. Because fat has higher calorie content, the assumption is that the body will consume less instead of more.

But it’s not just any fat. It should be from healthy fats that come from nuts, oils, fish, and the likes. Once the body reaches the ketosis state, your body will feed on fat to produce energy. This results in shedding off the extra weight and keeping a tight fat-free physique.

The change in fuel will cancel out or reduce carbohydrates intake significantly. But will turning to fat as the primary energy source have any adverse effect on a marathoner’s performance? Can a ketogenic diet supply the body needs of an endurance athlete?

How does the body change with Keto?

Increased fat intake usually results in gaining extra weight. But when done with a strict Ketogenic diet, wherein carbohydrates is reduced substantially from daily consumption, the transformation of the body is almost immediate.  

A regular ketogenic diet would include a high on fat and low on carb combo. Fried eggs and sliced avocados are usual for breakfast. Lunch might be a mix of vegetables cooked in butter and a hefty slice of lean meat without breading. Nuts and smoothies with egg are the go-to for snacks in between meals. 

Trained athletes who have gone on ketosis phase—feeding off from fat for energy—for a few weeks have noticed a reduction in body weight. Aerobic efficiency has increased as well, even while at rest. This means that the body is working harder to burn off fat even when not in motion. Fat-fueled metabolism seems to help lose weight faster. But will it improve race performance?

How Keto affects performance

Before the rise of Keto, marathoners have long relied on good old carbs to power them up all the way to the finish line. It’s standard practice for long-distance runners to load up on carbs hours before the race to sustain them while being on their feet for four or five hours.  Gorging on pasta and rice days or the night before the competition is the usual eating feast for marathoners.

But with a body fully adaptive to fat, most runners question whether or not running on low carb can bog down their endurance level after reaching the 10k threshold. There is no science-based formula that confirms KKeto is either good or bad.  But sports trainers and practitioners have long understood the effects of disrupting the body’s internal environment. 

Restricting carb intake for the body can limit its access to fuel. Carbohydrates in the muscle and liver can be turned into an energy source much quicker than fat. Though fat storage can be tapped into for the longer duration of runs or training, when the body is nearly depleted, it takes more oxygen for fat to be converted. High-intensity activities need an easy-to-burn fuel source to minimize fatigue. Relying primarily on fat instead of carbohydrates has the potential for sluggish performance. 

However, most athletes who have fully fat-adapted bodies beg to differ. Much like the early practitioners of Keto, the first few weeks are rough. Most can attest to feeling unenergetic. But over time, when the body fully adjusts to a high-fat energy source, you’ll start to notice the difference. The initial feeling of energy deficiency wears off as your body continues to feed off from fat. Eventually, your fat deposits also start depleting, which is a pathway for weight loss. If the body is given enough time to pull through, a fat reliant athlete can tap into unlimited energy reserve. Compared to carbs, the body’s muscles and blood can only store up to 2000 calories from carbohydrates which is not that high compared to calories from fat storage. 

Long term effects of Keto

One cannot deny the metabolic advantage of Keto. But considering the dynamic of a marathon race, where there’s more prolonged steady-state running compared to high-intensity running, one would benefit more from the Ketogenic diet. 

Long duration endurance sports require athletes to have the ability to tap into adequate supplies of energy reserves. With the Keto diet, the increased amount of fat reserve will help marathoners have enough energy source to keep up with the miles ahead. Your body has to use any available and accessible fuel source to maintain optimum performance. With ketones present in the muscle and bloodstream, you can rest assured you will be fueled enough to complete the course and get to the finish line in no time.

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